Don't take the risk - implement a return to work Covid testing program

Updated: Sep 20

Despite widely varying opinions about the status of SARS-Cov-2 and the reticence around public health care, Australian businesses (and the economy) continue to be battered by Covid-induced absenteeism and disruption.

Sick leave from fever and coughs is already five times last year’s levels, with the latest Flu Tracking data showing 2.25 per cent of people off work from sickness, compared with the five-year average of 1.5 per cent. Hundreds of thousands of Australians are already estimated to be suffering from Long Covid – costing the country $100 million a week, and if current costs persist, close to $5 billion a year.

Conversely, as restrictions and mandates have been removed, the responsibility of community public health has shifted unceremoniously to the general public and to business owners to care for their workers.

According to Fair Work and Safe Work Australia, employers have a duty under the model Work Health and Safety laws to eliminate or minimise the risks of COVID-19 at work so far as is reasonably practicable.

Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must protect the health and safety of their workers and eliminate or minimise the risk of exposure to COVID-19. They must also assess any other new or changed risks arising from COVID-19, for example, customer aggression, high work demand or working in isolation, as well as cover sick leave payments that may be due.

PCBUs are required to have appropriate policies and procedures in place to minimise COVID-19 exposure and transmission in the workplace and should consider developing a COVID-19 management policy that outlines how their organisation is managing the risk – including ensuring workers do not come to work if they are unwell, have just had COVID-19 or if they are a close contact of person who has COVID-19.

Confusion still exists around the recent shortening of the COVID-19 isolation period from seven to five days, but what most people appear to have missed is that the new ruling only applies to asymptomatic individuals – and it doesn’t apply to people in high-risk workplaces. The exact period someone is contagious varies based on the severity of the infection, vaccination status, and the person’s immune system. People with suppressed immune systems may be contagious for weeks or even longer.

Businesses may be unsure about how to adequately protect their staff and meet WHS duties at this time but there is a simple solution that can be implemented and managed cost effectively. Employers worried about the effect of SARS-CoV-2 on their workforce should ask staff to test negative on a rapid antigen test before they return to work.

Establishing a policy of ‘return testing’ with a very highly sensitive rapid antigen test in conjunction with a digital verification, recording and reporting platform that ensures the test has been taken in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions for use and is traceable due to a unique QR code, provides management with peace of mind that the employee is well, that they are eliminating the ingress of COVID-19 at the workplace and that they are protecting the workforce and greater community in a collaborative and compliant way.

Similar to regular COVID-19 screening programs implemented in high-risk environments, a ‘return-to-work’ program using the bespoke digital app and control platform allows for test result reporting, proactive resource management and work health and safety compliance. In addition to ensuring business continuity, the collection of all test result information is managed in accordance with the Privacy Act and the AMA Code of Ethics (2016).

While WHS mitigation requirements may initially appear ambiguous, the penalty for non-compliance and potential of workers' compensation claims is clear. According to a report in Allens Insights, an employer may be found liable for a COVID-19-related death or injury where it can be established that the employee contracted COVID-19 in the course of their employment, and their work-related activities were the main contributing factor to the COVID-19 infection.

Just a few months ago, the Personal Injury Commission of New South Wales (the Commission) found an employer liable for the death of an employee who contracted COVID-19 during their employment and ordered them to pay the widow an $834,000 lump sum death benefit and weekly compensation for the period of the deceased’s hospitalisation.

Speaking of the ruling, Graham Gordon, CEO of Gardian and developer of the Gardian T3 saliva-based rapid antigen test, Self Check App and Test Tracker solution said: “Businesses have got to make sure that they implement a fit for purpose response to the COVID place we find ourselves in now.

Graham Gordon, CEO Gardian

“Employers should want employees to stay home when they have COVID-19, and they should incentivise workers to do everything they can to reduce the spread, including following the recommended isolation period and ensuring they have achieved a negative test result before they return to the workplace.

“Not only is it patently unfair to have employees at work before they are completely well, it’s also poor management.”

GardianT3 Covid-19 Rapid Antigen Tests

To ensure your employees are Covid-free before they return to work so your workplace can return to 'business as usual', Gardian has created several packages that includes GardianT3 saliva rapid antigen tests, Self Check App with a Covid-free digital certificate and Gardian Test Tracker software to manage test results, in order to provide your organisation with the level of support you need. Each pack includes GardianT3's saliva based Covid-19 rapid antigen tests (20, 50 or 100), which unlike other rapid antigen tests can detect from day one.

Click on your preferred package below to find out what additional benefits we can offer or to buy now.